January 28, 2016

Top Five Lessons We Learned About Rural Design in 2014-2015

Annie Lynch

The 2014-2015 workshop year was a successful one for the Citizens' Institute on Rural Design™ (CIRD). In Franklin, New Hampshire; Lancaster County, Nebraska; Houston, Mississippi; and Alton, Missouri CIRD arrived to find communities buzzing with the desire to develop actionable plans to tackle their design challenges.

Here are the top five lessons we took away from our 2014-2015 communities:

1. Connectivity Matters

In Houston, MS workshop participants brainstormed ways to better connect the town's assets and destinations, including the Tanglefoot Trailhead. Participants emphasized the need for a greater number of bike and walking paths linking the trailhead to the town, as well as safe routes to school, and a bike-friendly connection to the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile long multi-use trail that stretches from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS.

Workshop in Houston, MS reviews the connectivity of the Tanglefoot Trailhead.

2. Effective Economic Development Can Take Many Forms


The Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op, Alton, MO.

The Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op in Alton, MO worked with CIRD staff and its Resource Team to develop designs for a new facility that would provide a centralized space to house the Co-op’s unique barter, food production, and cultural traditions. This space was envisioned as a place where artists and community members could connect and collaborate, illustrating the benefits of fusing culture with commerce.

3. Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Can Transform Ideas Into Action

Lancaster County secured funding for two Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC) projects in the villages of Hallam and Bennet as a follow up to their CIRD workshop in spring 2015. While LQC projects are not permanent, they are cost-efficient, timely, and provide communities with a vision of what their towns could look like. The Village of Hallam used LQC methods to re-imagine their downtown in advance of “Hallamfest,” the town’s annual culture and arts festival.  Hallam gave its downtown a unifying theme and branded their town motto: “A Little Town with a Big Heart.”  Hearts were painted in main intersections, and on the town’s new benches crafted from cinder blocks and 4x4 pieces of wood.

Decorative hearts adorned benches for “HallamFest.”

Meanwhile, in Bennet the sprinkler installation, along with temporary walking paths and signage, helped Bennet to envision future improvements for their Village Park.

Splash Pad in Bennet, NE.

4.  Meeting the Needs of Multi-Generations is Key

Through its workshop, Franklin, NH brought together millenials and seniors to discuss ways to create a more vibrant and walkable city, with both agreeing on a need for smaller and more affordable housing accessible to downtown without an automobile. As rural towns face aging populations and a desire to attract younger residents, finding common ground between these populations can help places like Franklin to stimulate their economy, retain their population, and improve livability.

5.  To Establish a Sense of Place it is Important to Celebrate a Community’s Cultural History.

Photo from our workshop in Franklin, NH.

Leading up to the CIRD workshop, the city of Franklin hosted a number of storytelling events called “Franklin Voices,” in which participants of all ages and backgrounds were encouraged to share their personal histories and experiences of living in Franklin. These sessions were essential for building consensus, and for reminding Franklin residents what makes their town special.

Looking Ahead to 2016-2017

Thank you to all who applied to host a workshop in 2016-2017. Those applications are currently under review and we look forward to working with a new cohort of communities beginning this year (look for the announcement of workshop hosts in March!). We’re certain that the lessons we learned from this past year will be invaluable in helping us solve challenges that face rural communities around the country, and we look forward to learning more through this next round of workshops.